We’re barely two years into the 2020s and already plenty of people are starting to feel nostalgic for the 2010s. The fidget spinners, the global K-Pop explosion, the Pokemon Go, the non-global-pandemicness of it all. Halcyon days.
So, when Spotify’s RapCaviar
, the ‘most influential playlist in hip-hop’ tweeted out a playful post about who would join Drake, Kendrik Lamar and J. Cole on the ‘Mount Rushmore of 2010s Rap’, unsurprisingly one little snowball became an avalanche. After thousands of replies and quote tweets and a poll, listeners came back with a resounding vote for not a new president of hip-hop, but a queen. Nicki Minaj, herself.
Having established such an iconic quartet, there was no way that Spotify was just going to leave the Mount Rushmore of 2010s Rap as a temporary flurry of social media engagement. They’ve teamed up with local artists in each of the four’s hometowns to create distinct versions of this righteous Mount Rushmore.
According to Carl Chery, creative director, head of urban music at Spotify, this seed of this whole project can be found in a lyric from one of the Mount Rushmore icons. “Drake, Kendrick and J. Cole have always been considered the Big 3 of the 2010s but there’s never been a consensus on the fourth. Drake helped inspire the idea. He says ‘My Mount Rushmore is me with four different facial expressions’ on ‘Survival’. The lyric would always resurface during brainstorming sessions. We talked about doing something Mount Rushmore-related for a while and finally settled on the right approach.”
That missing fourth face was a perfect hook for social media, says Max Weinstein, who is social media manager for hip-hop at Spotify. “There’s also always been a conversation about who belongs on the ‘Mount Rushmore’ of rappers. So we wanted to combine those dialogues with a twist, and the remaining fourth face on Mount Rushmore was a perfect opportunity to drive conversation on social media and let fans fill in the blank,” he says.
Things took off immediately, with fans and celebrities alike chipping in, even Nicki Minaj herself. “After we posted the initial asset with the missing fourth face, Nicki hopped in the comments, the Barbz
[Minaj fans] started swarming, and our replies started blowing up,” says Max. “So, we quickly monitored all the replies to our tweet, identified the top four answers, and then replied to our original tweet with a poll that included those top answers to let fans decide who the fourth face would be. That’s when we saw folks like LeBron James, Damian Lillard, and James Caan tweeting at us with their answers. We see hip-hop debates pop off on Twitter all the time, so it was the perfect channel on which to spark the Rushmore discourse.”
The Spotify team knew they wanted to pay a bigger tribute to the four artists that had set the tone for hip-hop in the streaming era. They decided to create physical versions of the Mount Rushmore image created in the rappers’ hometowns in order to make something that would have meaning for the artists themselves and their fans. And so they headed to New York, Toronto, Raleigh and Los Angeles and teamed up with local street artists Jeks One
, Luke Pollard
, Jacob Rochester
and Anderson Bluu
Aaron Melaragno, senior brand manager at Spotify, says that collaborating with artists who were themselves linked to the rappers’ hometowns was key to the project. “In hip-hop, an artists’ relationship with their home community is of the utmost importance,” he explains. “Nicki Minaj, J Cole, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar are icons who have shaped the way the world sees and understands their respective hometowns. For that reason we knew it would be integral to the campaign to collaborate with local muralists who could help us celebrate these global superstars from a regional perspective.”
But those murals are more than simply beautiful creative images, they also serve as a portal to the musical worlds created by those musicians. A Snapcode on the images can be scanned. The viewer will then be asked about their current mood and they’ll be taken to an album among the artists’ discographies that best represents that mood.
Toronto, Ontario// Hometown of Drake// 224 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M5V 1Z6, Toronto Canada// Mural by Luke Pollard
That blending of the physical and digital is something that Spotify loves to do. “As a brand that primarily lives in the digital world it's always a thrill to imagine how we can show up in the physical world and this was a fun opportunity to do so in an unexpected way that we thought fans would appreciate,” says Aaron.
Pulling this project together wasn’t without its challenges. Between making sure they were working with the right artists, building the online experience and praying that the painters wouldn’t be hit with bad weather, there were quite a few moving parts to keep track of.
New York, New York// Hometown of Nicki Minaj// 57 Kenmare St, New York, NY 10012// Mural by Anderson Bluu
But according to Aaron, the team was working so closely in sync that there was nothing that couldn’t be overcome. “Any project of this scale is sure to face challenges and this was no exception. Sourcing the partners, hunting for perfect locations, and dealing with unpredictable weather all presented obstacles along the way but what helped our team persevere was remaining focused on our collective vision. When we’re all aligned on that it's easy to adapt and keep pushing forward.”
Raleigh, North Carolina// Hometown of J. Cole// 416 S Dawson Street, Raleigh, NC 27601// Mural by Jeks One
This blending of the real world and digital world is not new for Spotify by any means, but Covid-19 has made things a little trickier over the past two years.
“While the pandemic put a pause in some of our in-person activations, we’ve traditionally found it very important to blend the digital on-platform world of Spotify with physical-world applications,” says Carl. “We’ve hosted many RapCaviar Live concerts pre-pandemic, unveiled RapCaviar Pantheon sculptures at the Brooklyn Museum, and we were even able to collaborate with James Harden last summer for a live concert charity event in Houston, connecting his Taste playlist takeover to his real-life community.”
Los Angeles, California// Hometown of Kendrick Lamar// 69 Windward Ave, Venice, CA 90291// Mural by Jacob Rochester
And while the pandemic is not over and the Omicron variant is still at large, the project does speak to a desire for people to leave their homes and get out and about in the world. “Fans are definitely yearning for the opportunity to celebrate the artists they love and connect with one another in ways we used to sometimes take for granted. It was exciting to see folks not only show love for this project online but also express pride in being able to view the murals in person,” says Aaron.
And might we see Mount Rushmore of Rap develop further? The team at Spotify are looking forward to an exuberant year for hip-hop and rap and have plenty of plans afoot. “We are incredibly excited for potential new releases this year across the rap spectrum, as well as the hopeful return to live, in-person events,” says Carl. “Just as we honored the 2010s of rap with our murals, we also plan to dig even deeper into the catalogue later in the year, spotlighting classic hip-hop. Stay tuned!”